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During the most recent legislative session, the Maine Children’s Alliance released a brief to legislators detailing the “significant, but solvable challenge of an inadequate early care and education system” in the state of Maine, posing the question: What can we do to support the needs of our modern workforce and ensure Maine has a professional and thriving early care and education system?
The average annual income for child care workers in Maine is significantly lower than public school teachers, including preschool and kindergarten. A college graduate with a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education has the lowest projected lifetime earnings of any college major.
In addition to not being a financially beneficial for providers, it’s unsustainably expensive for families. A married couple in Maine with a single child is spending 11% of family income on childcare. The federal benchmark for affordable care is 7%.
Supply is also an issue. Franklin County has the largest gap between supply of childcare and potential need of any county in the entire state.
So what does the Maine Children’s Alliance propose as strategies to build a better system?
  1. Support the early childhood workforce with wage supplements. Maine should increase funding to immediately support additional wage supplements while a longer-term plan is developed to increase wages. Increased wage supplements were included in the recently passed two-year state budget.
  2. Develop a plan to increase wages while ensuring affordable care for more families. State and community partners should develop a plan to ensure that early childhood educators are paid based on the real cost of care as opposed to the current market rate system. The plan should aim to achieve wage parity between early childcare educators and public school teachers within the next 6 years.
  3. Improve the cost of care model. States have historically used a market rate survey every two years to determine payment rates, but low wages in the industry have led to the current lack of available childcare. Using a different cost of care model can help states ensure that early childhood educators are paid based on the actual cost of quality care.
  4. Improve our data systems. First, we need a real-time supply and demand matching system to match parent needs with available early childhood education in their communities. Second, we need a childcare workforce study to determine how to support the field. Third, we need continued prioritization of an Earl Childhood Integrated Data System.
  5. Use contracts and grants to improve quality and supply of childcare while ensuring accountability. The Maine Children’s Alliance recommends that the state again uses contracts as a way to ensure that low-income children have access to high quality care and as a method to improve the supply of childcare in areas with critical needs.
  6. Expand First 4 Me and support regional community hubs. Expansion of the First 4 Me program to communities across the state could support children and families with health, nutrition, and family support similar to Head Start.
  7. Base reimbursement on enrollment, not attendance. Early childhood programs participating in the Child Care Subsidy Program are not reimbursed if a child is not in attendance. This policy was waived during the pandemic, but the state should eliminate the policy altogether.
  8. Address infant care with paid family leave. Good news on this point – the legislature just passed LD 1964, one of the nation’s most broad and generous paid family leave programs. You can read more on that here.
  9. Address affordability through public investment. It will require higher wages to attract and retain educators and lower costs for families to afford quality care. One solution could be to provide universal preschool for 3-4 year old children through a system including public schools, childcare centers, family care providers, and Head Start. Another solution could be to modify the subsidy program to include a sliding scale so that no parent would pay beyond a reasonable maximum level.

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